Music Review: Somethin’ Wonderful

Most people know Samantha Newark as the speaking voice of Jem, the iconic 80s animated character. What most people don’t know is that Ms. Newark is a seasoned singer in her own right. Her self-titled album in 2008 was a collection of original, vibrant alt-rock songs including “Jemboy,” a sincere shout-out to her longtime fans. For her new album, Somethin’ Good, Newark goes in an entirely different direction and creates a shimmering, electric piece of dance/pop perfection.

Something Good combines a number of electronic styles into a coherent whole, stocked top to bottom with melodic hooks, jumping synths and a sly, winking humor. Retro harmonies mesh effortlessly with a future-forward attitude that practically leaps from the speakers. More than anything, the album sounds sincere, the product of an artist who knows what she wants.

Newark’s voice is consistently strong and confident, blessedly free of Auto-Tune. Her voice proves to be highly elastic, at least compared to her previous album, and Newark seems to adopt a number of personas that seem more like facets of her being than masks used for a show. She’s a slinky vixen in “Hands On Me,” a wistful urbanite in “Please Tell Me” and a neo-disco diva on “Lover.” The versatility of her delivery is part of the enjoyment of the album, as each song seems to reveal a different side to Newark’s personality.

The songs often contain a directness and honesty that’s endearing and refreshing. This shows up most clearly in two of the album’s most beautiful vocals: the cool and shuffling “Take Me As I Am” and the exquisitely clear and tranquil “Blue Sea.” In the same way, the much funkier and aggressive “I Got Everything” is assured without feeling false, while the title track is bright and hopeful without being simplistic. 

There’s hardly a misstep in the album’s running time, even if that running time seems far too brief. Some of the songs run a bit short and sound like they could have been even stronger if they had been slightly longer and had more time to breathe. It’s a very minor complaint, however, considering how strong the album is and how compulsively listenable the songs are.

Combining Goldfrapp’s neon synth/pop, Sophie Ellis Bextor’s retro cunning, the eccentricity of Traci Lords’ 1000 Fire and her own magnetic voice, Samantha Newark has created an album all her own. It is, of course, truly outrageous, but it’s also the work of a serious, dedicated artist following her own muse with amazing results. Jem would be proud.

Rating: 9 out of 10 / A

Somethin’ Good is available on Newark’s official website and on iTunes.

Be sure to check out all of FBOTU’s truly outrageous Jem coverage here.

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